Limelight (Vino and Veritas #15) by E. Davies (audiobook) – Narrated by Greg Boudreaux


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Save the bees, ride a rock star.

Formerly famous…and planning to keep it that way.

After my band kicked me out, I ran away to Vermont, changed my name, and kept my head down. So far, it’s working and nobody knows who I am. Or who I was. Until I see geeky poet Caleb stumbling through his first open mic night and I can’t help rescuing him. He’s as sweet as the honey my bees make and sexy enough to make me rethink so many things. But I can’t tell him my secret, or I’ll lose the anonymous life I worked so hard to build.

Everyone warns me he’s too good to be true.

I can’t believe a gorgeous, successful winemaker like Tag is into shy, geeky little accountant me. But he helps me blossom and believe in my talent, and works his way into my heart and my bed…not necessarily in that order. I’m falling for a man for the first time, and now I know what the missing number in my equation has always been.

When lies are revealed, though, someone’s going to get stung….

Rating: Narration – A; Content – D+

It’s no secret around here that I’ll listen to Greg Boudreaux read just about anything. He’s the main reason I picked up Limelight (the fifteenth book in the multi-authored Vino and Veritas series) – and having listened to and read several of the other books in the set, I believed the story in this one should at least be fairly decent. Oh, how wrong I was. Limelight is six-and-a-half hours of no story, ridiculously contrived (minimal) conflict, overblown and sentimental dialogue and instalove – and if I hadn’t been listening to it for review, I’d have DNF’d well before the halfway mark.

The story – such as it is – is this. Some years before it begins, Tag Campbell – aka the artist formerly known as Titus Taylor – was a member of a world famous, hugely successful rock band. But when creative differences led to his bandmates forcing him out (in a very public, unprofessional and hurtful way), he ran away to Vermont, changed his name, kept his head down, and for the past few years, has run a small farm near Burlington where he keeps bees and makes mead which he sells to, among other places, the Vino and Veritas wine bar. He’s just made a delivery there one evening and is about to head out when his eye is caught by a head of bright blond curls and the young man they belong to as he steps up to the microphone on stage.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Survival Instinct (Cerberus Tactical K9 series #1) by Fiona Quinn (audiobook) – Narrated by James Cavenaugh

survival instinct

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Military training won’t help when the enemy is a force of nature….
All Major Dani Addams wanted when she started up that trail was to mourn and honor her fallen friend. She has no way of knowing the weather is about to turn on her in the worst possible way – or that she’s about to meet a man who will change her entire life.

Ex-SEAL Trip Williams and his K9 Valor were brought in to rescue a film crew that got caught in the storm. He isn’t expecting Dani. But once he finds her, he will keep her safe…even if he has to disobey direct orders and fight Mother Nature herself.
All Dani and Trip have to do to get to happily ever after is weather the storm. Should be simple, right? If only….

Rating: Narration – C+; Content – D

In one of our recent Currently Playing chats behind the scenes at AudioGals, I mentioned that I’d just listened to Fiona Quinn’s Survival Instinct and what a disappointment it was. Kaetrin responded that she’d listened to it as well and had enjoyed it – and as life would be very boring if we all liked the same things, I suggested we expand my initial review to include her thoughts and comments, as her views might resonate with some listeners and mine with others. So here’s our first ever joint review!

Caz: I’m sorry if I’m starting to sound like a broken record, but Fiona Quinn’s Survival Instinct – book one in her Cerberus Tactical K9 series – turned out to be yet another in a sadly long line of romantic suspense stories that are neither romantic nor suspenseful. I’ve listened to and enjoyed a few books by this author, but basing my decision to pick this one upon past listens was a bad one in this instance, because after a strong start, it went rapidly downhill and never recovered.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Playing the Palace by Paul Rudnick (audiobook) – Narrated by Michael Urie

playing the palace

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

After having his heart trampled on by his cheating ex, Carter Ogden is afraid love just isn’t in the cards for him. He still holds out hope in a tiny corner of his heart, but even in his wildest dreams he never thought he’d meet the Crown Prince of England, much less do a lot more with him. Yes, growing up he’d fantasized about the handsome, openly gay Prince Edgar, but who hadn’t? When they meet by chance at an event Carter’s boss is organizing, Carter’s sure he imagined all that sizzling chemistry. Or was it mutual?

This unlikely but meant-to-be romance sets off media fireworks on both sides of the Atlantic. With everyone having an opinion on their relationship and the intense pressure of being constantly in the spotlight, Carter finds ferocious obstacles to his happily ever after, including the tenacious disapproval of the queen of England. Carter and Price Edgar fight for a happy ending to equal their glorious international beginning. It’s a match made on Valentine’s Day and in tabloid heaven.

Rating: Narration – B-; Content – D+

When I read the synopsis of Playing the Palace a few months back, my immediate reaction was a big, fat NOPE. (Any author who uses the term “Crown Prince” to describe the heir to the British throne and doesn’t bother to discover that while the term CAN be applied to the heir apparent to a monarch, the term is NOT used in the UK where the male heir to the throne is the Prince of Wales – gets an immediate no from me). I even put the book on my “No Way José” shelf on Goodreads! BUT. The offer of a review copy of the audiobook came my way and as, at the time, I was completely out of review copies, I thought I’d give it a try. Just to see if it could possibly be as bad as I expected.

Long story short: It is.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals

Even Odds (FBI Joint Task Force #3) by Fiona Quinn (audiobook) – Narrated by Steve Marvel

even odds

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Double crossed. Double agents. Doubling down… She’s putting her heart and her life on the line.

Raine Meyers is alive today only because of the heroic efforts of the Delta Force Echo Team. It’s time to pay that debt.

As an undercover defense intelligence officer, Raine tracks a Russian threat to the Delta Force wives left vulnerable while their husbands are downrange protecting the US.

FBI Special Agent in Charge Damian Prescott, former Delta Force operator – also Raine’s former fiance – falls quite literally into the middle of her operation.

Since both the DIA and FBI have their teeth clamped onto the same crime, why not join forces? A plan is hatched to insert the two intelligence officers into the action – under the cover of a fake marriage – painting a target on Raine’s back, enticing the mole out into the open.

Damian wasn’t there when his Delta Force brothers saved Raine from the terrorists in Afghanistan…will he be there for her this time, when she’s in the sniper’s rifle sights?

Rating: Narration – D+; Content – C+/B-

Even Odds is book three in Fiona Quinn’s FBI Joint Task Force series set in her wider World of Iniquus series of interconnected romantic suspense novels. I enjoyed the previous two books – Open Secret and Cold Red, which were narrated by Teddy Hamilton and Troy Duran respectively – and was looking forward to another fast-paced, well-plotted story, but when I sat down to write this review after listening to all ten and a half hours of Even Odds, I realised I had a problem. Steve Marvel’s narration just isn’t up to the standard set by the other two performers, and it was so distracting that I just couldn’t get into the story. I got the bare bones of the plot, but I’ve probably missed some of the detail.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

The Vicar and the Rake (Society of Beasts #1) by Annabelle Green (audiobook) – Narrated by Cornell Collins

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As a young man, Sir Gabriel Winters left behind his status as a gentleman, turning his back on his secret desires and taking a self-imposed vow of celibacy. Now he’s a chaste, hardworking vicar, and his reputation is beyond reproach. But, try as he might, he’s never forgotten the man he once desired or the pain of being abandoned by his first love.

Edward Stanhope, the duke of Caddonfell, is a notorious rake, delighting in scandal no matter the consequence. With a price on his head, he flees to the countryside, forced to keep his presence a secret or risk assassination. When Edward finds Gabriel on his estate, burning with fever, he cannot leave him to die, but taking him in puts them both in jeopardy.

With the help of a notorious blackmailer, a society of rich and famous gentlemen who prefer gentlemen, and a kitten named Buttons, they might just manage to save Edward’s life – but the greatest threat may be to their hearts.

Rating: Narration – A-; Content – D

I’m always on the lookout for new m/m historicals, and Carina Press, who published the print edition of début author Annabelle Greene’s The Vicar and the Rake, has a pretty good track record when it comes to LGBTQ+ romance. When I saw that Cornell Collins would be narrating this title, I decided to listen rather than read which, in one way was a good decision, because his polished, accomplished narration was absolutely the best thing about it. In another way? Not so much, as even his expertise couldn’t disguise what is essentially a weak story with poorly defined characters, no romantic tension or chemistry, plot points that made no sense and a completely ridiculous ending.

Okay, so a quick resumé of the plot, such as it is. Reverend Sir Gabriel Winters decided to give up a life of luxury for that of a country vicar when he was younger, and along with his holy orders, turned his back on his secret desires and took a self-imposed vow of celibacy – which basically amounts to “God, I know I’m gay but I vow never to act upon it.” Gabriel pretty much grew up with his best friend, Edward Stanhope, now the Duke of Caddonfell, a man so visibly, arrogantly, dangerously libertine that his nickname, whispered from one end of England to the other, was simply Scandal. And: The terror of every mother in the ton, not for their daughters, but for their sons. The most infamous sodomite in London.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Colton 911: Agent By Her Side by Deborah Fletcher Mello

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She’ll do anything to track a killer

If P.I. Kiely Colton must work with FBI agent Cooper Winston, she will. But to solve a cold case, she won’t change her break-the-rules style to accommodate the single father’s by-the-book principles. But Kiely finds herself inexplicably attracted to her new partner. Will a ruthless killer put an end to their future before it begins?

Rating: D

The Colton 911: Grand Rapids series is part of a wider universe featuring members of the Colton family (who are all military, law enforcement or in some other related profession) who live and work across the US.  It’s a multi-author series, in which all the books are supposed to be able to stand alone, but as I quickly discovered not long after I started reading Colton 911: Agent By Her Side (book four in the Grand Rapids series) the need to incorporate various items of backstory led to lots and lots of mind-numbing info-dumps that added precisely nothing to the main storyline.

The overarching plot of this mini-series concerns the search for con artist Wes Matthews, who has defrauded people of millions and endangered lives by selling a fake supplement promising to be a fountain of youth called RevitaYou that containes traces of Ricin, AND scammed most of his investors out of a fortune via a dodgy pyramid scheme.  Matthews has eluded capture so far, but this story opens with a call to the FBI tip line with information that he’s holed up in a remote location by Reeds Lake.  The person manning the tip line is not an FBI agent or employee but a local PI, Kiely Colton – which felt completely unlikely; why would the FBI employ a PI to man their phones?  (And is it ‘Keeley’ or ‘Kylie’?  I like to pronounce names correctly in my head when I’m reading, and continually wondering what it was supposed to be pulled me out of the story almost every time I saw it.)

Anyway, Kiely takes the tip to Special Agent Cooper Winston, with whom we’re told she has butted heads in the past, and who is heading up the hunt for Matthews. Kiely and Cooper are just about to head out to the lake to check out the tip when Cooper gets a call from his son’s preschool to say that little Alfie has been snatched.  An anonymous phone call after they arrive telling Cooper to stop the search for Matthews confirms suspicions that whoever took Alfie is related to the case somehow, so Cooper and Kiely decide to check out the cottage at Reeds Lake and whaddya know?  Alfie and the kidnapper are there!

They rescue Alfie – but Cooper suffers a couple of cracked ribs, a head injury and a concussion, and receives strict instructions from the doctor that he’s to take it easy for six weeks – how on earth will he manage? No prizes for guessing he asks Kiely to become his live-in nanny.

Kiely – who isn’t fond of kids and whose sisters insist she doesn’t have a maternal bone in her body – finds that Alfie has “somehow wrangled a tight grip on her heart”  She’s a domestic goddess, making  gourmet meals and getting Alfie to eat whatever she serves up without complaint.  A couple of days later, Cooper’s house is bombed and he’s once again warned off searching for Matthews.

Cooper, Kiely and Alfie are moved to a luxury safe house where Kiely gets to do yet more gourmet cooking, more bonding with Alfie and more making eyes at Cooper. Oh, no wait – there’s no making eyes, and no romantic tension between Cooper and Kiely whatsoever.  We’re told they’re attracted to each other – Kiely finds the sight of Cooper in nothing but his boxers causes “heat [to] course straight though her feminine spirit” for example (whatever the hell a “feminine spirit” is – Gin? Vodka?) – but shown nothing to back it up.

After the move to the safe house, we tread water until around the three-quarters mark, but I’d lost interest long before then.  And I had to wonder – how safe is a safe house where the people living there can make phone calls on their personal mobiles, go out grocery shopping and have their sister over to visit? There are so many inconsistencies in the story I can’t possibly point to them all. We spend over half the book watching Cooper and Kiely play Happy Families while the author talks up their non-existent connection, until Kiely comes out with this gem:

“Are you interested in a relationship, Cooper?”

Before they’ve even kissed – but even if they had, who SAYS something like that?!

There are a couple of sex scenes, hence the ‘warm’ rating going by AAR’s guidelines, but personally, I’d rate it as ‘damp (and not in a good way!) squib’ – and it’s full of flowery language about “sensual gratification” and “hedonistic decadence” and “heat rising like a vengeance between them” – when there’s no heat at all.

The writing is wooden and cliché-laden; my Kindle is bursting with notes, but here’s one choice passage:

“She was sunshine in the midst of a storm.  Her carefree spirit was like a breath of fresh air.  She was light in a well of darkness. She was everything he had been missing in his lie.  He had vowed to never love again, but something about Kiely had him reconsidering that pledge.”


And when Cooper says this to Kiely:

“Who knows why women do what they do? I stopped trying to figure you and your kind out years ago.”

I was hard pressed to remember that this book was published in 2020 and was written by a woman.

So we’ve got a plot that basically goes nowhere, a commitment shy hero and heroine, a bunch of family connections far too large to keep track of, and Alfie the wonder-kid,  one of those miraculous plot-moppets who, though often referred to as “the baby” can say things like “Open da door, Ki-Ki! Got to go potty!” and “Me was a bad boy. Alfie will be good, okay?” , and is confused when he registers that Kiely’s twin sister looks like Kiely but isn’t her. (I’m not sure a toddler would notice or care much about it!)

Colton 911: Agent By Her Side is the first book I’ve read by this author and on this showing, it’ll be the last.  I haven’t read any of the other books in this series, and even though they’re by a variety of authors, I’m not exactly inspired with confidence to try another one.  This one isn’t romantic, it’s not suspenseful and to call the characters cardboard cut-outs is, frankly, an insult to cardboard-cut outs everywhere.

Manners & Mannerisms by Tanya Chris (audiobook) – Narrated by Joel Leslie

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon
Everyone in Highley eagerly anticipates the arrival of Reginald Abernathy, the new master of Albon Manor. Everyone, that is, except Lord William Bascomb. William knows he’ll be expected to woo Reginald’s sister, and he can’t summon the interest for it. But when the Abernathys arrive at last, William discovers he’s interested after all – in Reginald. Reginald is the most handsome, most dashing, most intriguing man he’s ever known. Better yet, he seems to share William’s preference for men. The addition of the Abernathys to Highley suits everyone. William’s sister adores Reginald’s, Aunt Harriet foresees many happy matches between the two families, William’s sister-in-law is pleased at the prospect of unloading her penniless relatives at last, and all the eligible ladies in Highley want the man who only has eyes for William. Against a backdrop of elegant balls and frolicking picnics, William and Reginald enjoy furtive moments of ecstasy until a scandal erupts, forcing William to choose between Reginald and the only life he’s ever known.

Rating: Narration – A-; Content – D

Manners & Mannerisms is a standalone m/m historical romance by Tanya Chris, who is the author of a number of contemporary and paranormal romances – and based on this, I’d suggest she should stick to those, because historicals clearly aren’t her forté. The story is dreadfully dull, and had I not agreed to review it, I’d probably have DNF’ed; even the fabulous Joel Leslie can’t turn this audiobook into anything other than it is – painfully uneventful and completely devoid of chemistry and humour. Our PoV character is Lord William Bascombe, younger brother of the Marquess of Eldridge. The family is very strapped for cash thanks to their father’s mismanagement, and they have avoided destitution by the marquess’ marriage to an heiress. William and his younger siblings, Frederick and Catherine, still live at the family home, although William knows that he should be considering taking a wife for himself and setting up his own household. He also knows that he is not inclined towards women, and has instead resigned himself to living alone. His aunt, however, has other ideas; Mr. Reginald Abernathy of Virginia – the new owner of the neighbouring estate of Albon Manor – would be an excellent choice of suitor for Catherine, and more than that, he has a sister of marriageable age who would no doubt make William a good wife. You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Thorn in His Side by Helen Juliet (audiobook) – Narrated by Kieran Flitton

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon.

The last thing beautiful, inexperienced Joshua Bellamy wants is an arranged marriage with the terrifying Darius Legrand. But if Joshua wants to save himself and his family from being thrown onto the streets by Darius’s father, he has no choice.

However, when Darius goes to extreme lengths to rescue Joshua from near-death, Joshua has to wonder if there’s more to his beastly husband than he previously thought.

Darius Legrand, a former captain, is used to being manipulated by his cruel father, but when Joshua is dragged into the feud between their families, he decides something has to change.

Protecting Joshua is one thing, but Darius knows that falling in love can’t be an option. Someone so young and beautiful could never give his heart to an older, ill-tempered brute like Darius.

Joshua is determined to bring joy to Darius’s life again, and Darius refuses to let Joshua hide his sweetness from the world any longer. Over time, it becomes clear that despite their differences, their hearts are drawing closer together.

But can happiness ever be possible for a rose and a thorn, when Darius’s father will go to any lengths to see his deadly game through?

Rating: Narration – B; Content – D+

Helen Juliet’s A Thorn in His Side is an m/m retelling of Beauty and the Beast, but it’s a bit of a mess right from the start.  To begin with, the setting is confusing.  I did read the synopsis before opting to review it and the setting wasn’t mentioned, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t expecting it to be a fantasy or some sort of AU historical (AU because there’s no problem with a gay marriage) – but no, it’s 21st century Kent.   But this version of 21st century Kent, not too far from Folkestone is somewhere remote and off the grid with no mobile signal or internet.  Um.  Okay. But the hero is an adult, and rich enough to live in a castle… he can’t pick up the landline to Virgin, BT or Sky?   Anyway, he’s our Beast figure.  Darius Legrand  is a heavily scarred, thirty-seven-year-old military veteran who lives in the aforementioned  castle in the wilds of Kent, has plenty of money of his own (an inheritance from his late mother) and who is, for some reason I couldn’t understand, terrified of his father – who comes and goes as he pleases – and puts up no fight whatsoever against his nefarious schemes.

Beauty is Joshua Bellamy (BELL-amy – geddit?) the twenty-one year old, totally gorgeous son of a business associate of Victor Legrand’s and when his father suffers some disastrous losses, Joshua agrees to marry Darius in order to prevent their being made destitute; Darius marries Joshua because… er… his dad told him to?  Joshua is slightly built and worries he’s not very ‘manly’ – he’s also like the worst kind of simpering romance heroine who cries a lot, indulges in weepy hand-wringing and thinks of her incredible beauty as something of a curse.  Oh, and he’s a virgin.

So we’ve got the scarred veteran who thinks there’s no way such a beautiful young man could possibly be interested in him, and the beautiful young man who, after being a bit scared of his new husband, starts to discover a softer side to him while also wondering if such a piece of hunky hawtness could possibly fancy a l’il femmy guy like him.

And then there’s the baddie.  Victor Legrand is… well comparing him to a pantomime villain is, frankly, an insult to pantomime villains everywhere.  He seems to be present in the story for no other reason than to be the evilest evil that ever evilled.

It’s very rare for me to DNF a book or audiobook I’ve agreed to review, but I gave up at around 70%, which I consider to be enough of a sample to justify my comments.  I only stuck with it that long because I wanted to give new-to-me narrator Kieran Flitton a fair crack of the whip.  His performance is easily the best thing about this audiobook, and I would definitely listen to him again, although – hopefully – in better material.  His voice is attractive, his diction is clear and easy to understand and while his pacing is perhaps the teeniest bit on the slow side, it wasn’t really an issue.  His character differentiation is good and his vocal characterisations suit the characters with Darius speaking in deeper, resonant tones while Joshua’s voice is higher pitched and he’s more softly spoken.  Some of his European (?) accents are a bit dodgy, and there were some pronunciation issues which should have been picked up;  “monsieur” (it’s “m’sieu”);  Folkestone (it’s “st’n” not “stone” at the end)  and the pronunciation of Darius as “Daah-rius” while it might have been correct (although I’m not sure), was extremely irritating.  Where Mr. Flitton really excels is in the quieter moments and intimate scenes between Darius and Joshua, and the love scenes are extremely well done (Shane East – look out, you’ve got some serious competition in the sexy Brit department!)

As is obvious, I can’t recommend Thorn in His Side; the idea was a good one, but the execution is severely lacking.  I recently enjoyed a couple of the audiobooks in the Pine Cove series by Ms. Juliet’s alter-ego, H.J. Welch and had hoped for more of the same, but what I found instead was a story that moved slower than a snail through molasses and smelled far more of elderly cheese than roses.


The Bachelor by (Duke Dynasty #2) by Sabrina Jeffries (audiobook) – Narrated by Beverley A. Crick

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Lady Gwyn Drake has long protected her family’s reputation by hiding an imprudent affair from her youth. But when her former suitor appears at Armitage Hall, manhandling the heiress and threatening to go public with her secrets, it’s Gwyn who needs protecting. Her twin brother, Thorn, hires Joshua Wolfe, the estate’s gamekeeper, to keep her safe in London during her debut. As a war hero, Joshua feels obligated to fulfill the assignment he has accepted. But as a man, it’s torment to be so very close to the beauty he’s fought to ignore….

With handsome Joshua monitoring her every move, Gwyn would prefer to forget both the past and the parade of money-seeking bachelors at her coming out. But Joshua is unmoved by her attempts at flirtation, and the threat of blackmail still hangs over her. With danger closing in, Gwyn must decide which is the greater risk: deflecting a scoundrel’s attempts to sabotage her – or revealing her whole heart to the rugged bodyguard she can’t resist….

Rating: Narration – B; Content – D

The Bachelor is book two in Sabrina Jeffries’ Duke’s Dynasty series, which features the offspring of a duchess who was married three times, to three different dukes. I’d planned to review book one, Project Duchess, when it came out last year, but problems with my review copy meant I wasn’t able to finish it. I believe there are overarching plotlines relating to a mystery begun in book one, but those don’t come into play here until fairly late on and don’t have any real bearing on the central storyline or romance.

I’ve read and listened to a number of books by this author and have enjoyed them, but unfortunately, I can’t say the same of The Bachelor, which is short on plot, shorter on romantic chemistry and long on boredom.

The heroine of this book is Lady Gwyn Drake, twin sister of the Duke of Thornstock and the only female of the duchess’ five children. Gwyn and her brother have spent most of their lives in Berlin and returned to England only recently; she is thirty-years-old and doesn’t expect to marry, but as the sister of a newly-minted duke, is preparing to make her début in London society. When the book opens, she has agreed to meet with a former… er… acquaintance, Lionel Malet, in response to the letter he sent demanding money to keep quiet about the secrets which could ruin her good name. It’s not explicitly stated at this stage what those secrets are, but it’s easy to guess.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

The Master’s New Governess by Eliza Redgold

This title may be purchased from Amazon

A new position for the governess

As mistress of Pendragon Hall?

Unfairly dismissed from her previous position, her reputation ruined, governess Maud Wilmot is forced to take on a new identity. When she feels an ever-growing attraction to her new employer, Cornish railway entrepreneur Dominic Jago, Maud longs to reveal the truth. But doing so could end their fledgling romance before it’s truly begun…

Rating: D

Harlequin Historical has a fairly good track record and has a number of my favourite authors on its roster, so I picked up new-to-me author Eliza Redgold’s The Master’s New Governess in hopeful anticipation of another enjoyable, romantic read. But I was sadly disappointed. What I found instead was a dully plodding story, bland, barely two-dimensional characters and a romance that never got off the ground.

The position of a governess could be a very uncomfortable and insecure one, something brought home to Miss Maud Wilmot when she is dismissed from her position without a character for reasons which are merely alluded to, but which are easy to work out. Without references, she will not be able to secure another post, but as luck would have it, her sister Martha – who is recently married – had secured a situation in Cornwall prior to her marriage and has not yet written to decline it. So – with Martha’s full knowledge – Maud (pretending to be Martha) writes to Sir Dominic Jago of Pendragon Hall to accept the position as governess to his seven-year-old daughter, Rosabel, and is very soon on her way.

She has been sent a first class ticket for the last leg of her journey – even though it’s very unusual for a governess to travel in such luxury – and gets her first, unexpected glimpse of her new employer when he intervenes to resolve a dispute on the train. Maud knew Sir Dominic was a businessman, but hadn’t realised he’s the owner of the West Cornish Railway.

Arrived at the hall, Sir Dominic (the author makes a point of having Maud think that he should be addressed as Sir Firstname and not Sir Lastname – which is correct, so why hit readers over the head with it?) broaches a delicate subject before introducing Maud to her charge.  The last two governesses he employed had entertained “a fantasy of certain governesses that they might marry the master of the house.”  He wants to make it absolutely clear that he has no interest in remarrying and won’t tolerate any romantic notions about him on her part.  Maud quickly assures him she has absolutely no interest in anything other than educating his daughter.

To be fair to Maud, she does mean it.  But she doesn’t know she’s in a romance novel.

So, of course, romantic notions do eventually take root on both sides, but the pacing of the story is dreadfully slow, there’s so little chemistry between the characters  I’d actually put it in negative figures, and the writing is so full of overblown sentimentality and navel-gazing that I’d have been better entertained watching grass grow.  There’s no tension or forward momentum in the story at all (the only real bone of contention being that Maud is pretending to be Martha) and most of the story is devoted to Maud and Dominic busily castigating themselves for being attracted to the other, and thinking any relationship other than that of master and servant is impossible.

When they do finally kiss about two thirds of the way into the book, our hero is, of course, completely blown away and thinks it was better than any of the sex he had with his dead wife. While Maud, who –

had thought that the sensitive, previous part of her had been numbed, frozen, half-dead, unable to come alive.

(Not to belabour a point, of course.)

Starts to feel all those tingly feminine feelings rushing back.

Oh, puhleeze.

And naturally, Maud is the sort of governess who could put Mary Poppins to shame. We’re told  she’s far more popular than any previous governess had been. Dominic tells her early on that he’s worried that Rosabel has become overly timid, and he can “barely encourage her out of doors.”  But hey, whaddya know?  On her very first morning, Maud gets Rosabel outside to release a butterfly into the garden, and from that moment, she’s outside almost all the time, and Dominic’s fears are forgotten.  Maud makes up stories about butterflies every night, they go butterfly hunting by day, Dominic buys a vivarium for the butterflies… so yes, if you’re not fascinated by butterflies (or railways), you’re not going to have a lot of fun with this book.  Actually, that’s probably true even if you are fascinated by butterflies or railways.

There’s an evil Other Woman who has all the subtlety of a pantomime villain – she crops up to be nasty to Maud and taunt her with her plans to marry Dominic (she makes Blanche Ingram appear pleasant by comparison). Dominic speaks in info dumps about railways half the time and while I appreciated Maud’s dedication to the cause of female education, her speech to the evil OW near the end was preachy and only needed a flashing neon sign saying ‘important message here.’

As I said at the beginning, Harlequin has some terrific authors of historical romance in its stable who are able to write engaging stories, rounded characters and believable, well-developed romances within the shorter page-count generally allocated to the category romance – and I’m not going to let this dud put me off reading them.  But I’d advise giving The Master’s New Governess a miss.